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Trout Nerd

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Trout Nerd. Or Troutnerd. A term I use for myself a lot. I feel that I am that weird dude of the group that is way too involved with fly fishing and trout. I really get into trout and how they tick. I watch water temps, seine the river around the time the hatches are supposed to happen to see where the river is at in terms of food. Flows, barometric pressure, weather systems, and all the stuff, I just like to know whats going on. Even if I am not fishing. That way, if I run into someone who is or was, or wants to go, I know what to say.

I like to snorkel places during certain times of the year to watch what fish do. I like to see how many fish are actually hanging around too. Not always to catch them, well okay I am always trying to catch them, but in reality I also want to know just how healthy the river is. Especially the upper stretches. Places that are easy to walk and wade in the summer and take a mask and go check out the fish. It gives the angler in me more insight, but it also lets the outdoorsmen in me educate myself on the river. I especially like watching the salmon come in and how the river reacts. This past season was very fun as the Sockeye were more present in the upper river than I have ever seen. Our wild trout key in on this migration of zombified fish, that instead of flesh to eat, just want to get it on.

Watching salmon make the trek from the ocean, even hatchery fish, is still quite neat, but watching how these wild trout have benefited from them is even more interesting to the nerd in me. Huge populations of our rainbow and cutthroat move in behind these fish and feed on eggs and flesh. Always being mindful of redds the fishing can be rather spectacular, while you may throw eggs to them a lot, the sheer number that follow them up makes the dry fly and nymph fishing throughout the system super sweet.

Snorkeling in the upper river watching lots of 16 inch, and a few quite a bit bigger, rainbow feed on salmon flesh floating down river was pretty wicked too, catching them on big gray bunny leaches was awesome. I would have never thought to fish then or even know the large rainbows were in there without doing a little research and discovery for myself. It helps in all aspects of angling and only makes you a little crazy.

Simply taking the time to watch the river without chasing trout can be beneficial. Sure it makes you nerdy, but when you do have a fly rod in your hand, you are that much more in tune with what is going on. Being in tune means that those who are fishing in the boat have a better day on the river. Like a tuning fork, keeping everyone on pitch, with the river.

The other thing that being a troutnerd does is it gets me super excited about fishing. Good energy and vibes can make a slow day go by better, and a great day freaking awesome! Sometimes you gotta sing to them trout, get them to come into the boat. Other times they require really intense focus, a different tone, a different pitch. Setting that up is half the fun of fishing with people and being a guide. I get just a big a kick out of tricking a trout myself as having other people trick one. Especially with me on the sticks. When a friend is fishing in the boat, or client. When they trick a trout and the fun begins, it means that everything just clicked. The position of the boat, where the trout was, where the angler put the fly, the read, the drift, the take, the set, the anchor, the net, and the release. It all comes together and that’s what fly fishing is. All that stuff, that trout nerdy stuff that I can’t get enough of…it all syncs together, and we all share a bitchin’ moment with a trout.

Tamarack

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Homewater and The Kid

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The river is not without the need of care from those who embrace her. Whether it be the family that swims and plays along her banks, the angler fishing from the boat, the farmer who uses her water for crops, or the hundreds of others, she always needs to be cared after.

An interesting thing happened today. I volunteered to help with my local Yakima Headwater Trout Unlimited Chapter’s River Clean Up today. We had a great turnout, more than I was expecting to be honest. A clean up in February and the wonderful rain, is not always on everyone’s awesome things to do today list. It was on mine however. I checked in at work, took the rest of the day off, and gave back to my Homewater.

The interesting part about the day was at the end, the amount of trash piled into my boat on the very small section of river we cleaned was immense. Two fellow anglers and friends, and I hit the Cle Elum River, a favorite of mine. My entire drift boat was filled with trash. Beer cans, glass bottles, discarded rafts, an old projector, tires, wrappers, needles, gas cans, oil cans, jugs, MOTHER F’ING WATER BOTTLES!

People! It’s called a bloody NALGENE! Its like 10 bucks, you fill it up with water, hell buy a bottle of water and pour it into it for all I care, just don’t put that water bottle in the river! Buy four bottles of water and you almost pay for a nalgene, get one with a purifier in it and guess what?! You can put TAP water in it and its clean and safe to drink. Or just drink tap water like a normal person….Oh, shit, sorry…I have this thing about water bottles. Don’t get me started on ones that are filled with pee.

Where was I, cough…right.

We were one of the last crews to come in and everyone was waiting to see if we got the motorcycle out of the river. We did…the bastard. I’m making a trophy out of it. But what everyone was looking at was all the trash and junk in the back of my boat, no one even noticed the motorcycle strapped until a few second later. Way too much garbage. In fact…its quite shameful. I shared the photos with a few community members when I got home.

Their faces said it all. Complete disbelief and even a little shame. Everyone who lives here knows that the Yakima River is here. It is, in fact connected to everyone here in some way. As a local I was embarrassed. Especially after I saw a good friend and mentor looking over the heaping pile with a rather distraught look on his face. When I got a good look at it after everything died down, I’m sure I had the same look on my face. We, or at least I was disappointed in myself for allowing this.

Such a great things to have all that trash, junk, and people’s general lack of decency, out of the river and stuffed into and piled around the dumpster. But such an eye opener and a reminder. A reminder that the river needs care. Something that I will be engaging in more and more, and getting more people to become a part of.

Moving on to a fishing related short that also happened today.

We were hefting this bloody motorcycle with a wheel barrow, backwards, up along the river bank, and through the trees to the truck, and there is this kid fishing in the river. When I say kid I mean kid, teenager maybe not old enough to drive, not sure doesn’t matter. Dude looked like he was a teenager and that was enough of a surprise. His dad came and picked him up from the river, which I think is awesome! Here’s why this kid is so rad.

The Kid, as he will be referred to as it is a cool title in the fly fishing world.

The Kid is there flipping his rod through the air like a freaking champion! Like a Champion! His loop is tight, his backcast is timed just right, the loop rolls forward smooth with only a slight little dent in the line, he drops a little early, but he compensates with a little half tug of a haul and lays the fly out basically perfect. If he was in my boat, that cast would catch fish all day long!

As we were walking to get the damn motorcycle, I mentioned to my fellow angler, that he was fishing the wrong water, everything about him screamed brand spanken new to fly fishing! I love it! People may get down on those just getting into this sport. I had a hell of a time at first, especially with shops. I look at new anglers and see myself, I see my kids, I see someone wanting to do something that is completely pointless, catching trout has way easier methods, for some strange reason within them they want to do it with a fly and rod. It’s called being a fly fishermen.

As we are hauling this bloody motorcycle, back past The Kid, now throwing a nymph with a huge indicator. Way too big, sorry Kid, my bad, if you are reading this, I should have given you a few of my smaller ones but I totally spaced. I called over to The Kid and asked if he wanted some advice or had a question? He seemed interested in us anyway. Yes we were critiquing you, and no we were not making fun of you. Quite the contrary. The Kid gave a yes answer.

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We finished moving the god forsaken MOTORCYCLE, and I grabbed my gear and headed back down to The Kid. I was super anxious to help him out and maybe see if he could trick a trout. He was close to some areas where we spotted some feeding. I rigged up my stuff and kinda watched him for a bit. I am sure I made him nervous. His cast needed no help. He just didn’t know where the trout were, which is totally cool, hell half the time I spend half the day trying to find them, especially in the winter. I introduced myself and shook his hand. A teenager that shakes hands! Holy Shit The Kid is awesome! I asked him a few questions, and then complemented him on his cast. He seemed pretty surprised. I began briefly explaining where the fish would be holding, pointed out the few things to look for, and gave him a few tips for his fly set up. He had a great double rig on, rubber legs and a mayfly nymph, red, small, good choice for this time of year. Shorter tippet, better weight placement, and boom, ready to go. Sometimes its just a few simple tweaks to fine tune everything in, and things will work.

I love handing out flies, its just something I do. I gave him some sqwalla nymphs, he knew what they were, YES! The Kid did some homework! Handed him some dries, a few Salmon Fly Nymphs for later in the season. He thanked me, and I gave him my phone number, told him give me a call if he ever had a question. Call means text nowadays. I gave him my website too, told him I write some stuff, people read it, might help. Ya know, throw it out there.

Went on down river to chase my own trout. We had a nice winter stone hatch during the day, saw a few fish on the surface, a few flash under, blue wings here and there, nothing major. It’s getting there though. Not seeing a lot of nymphs out just yet, but we are close.

I love meeting new people on the river. I got to meet two new anglers with the clean up and The Kid was an added bonus to my day. There is a lot of great things that can happen riverside. The Kid got to see that today. He saw a team of guys cleaning up the river, he met some fellow anglers that shared some knowledge, got some killer flies, and made a contact in the fly fishing community here. I, got to give back to the Homewater today, meet new people, and see The Kid, who could have been at home watching netflix, playing video games, or whatever they do these days, mine are still young so I don’t know yet. Instead, The Kid was casting a fly rod, like a champion, in water ankle and knee deep, in February, chasing trout. There was A Kid, that stood in the river up to his waist, near Ringer Loop, in February, casting a fly rod like a noob, chasing trout; wow…10 years ago this year, I shared my first moment with a Wild Yakima Rainbow Trout. Cheers to The Kid. He’s got a wicked cast, and a whole river to explore…its a blast dude, let me tell you…its an absolute blast.

Tamarack

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Elder Trout

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There is a river. It cuts through mountains and carves out canyons. Its belly swells deep into the rock, slowly growing deeper as it ebbs and flows with each season. There is a river. It is powerful, relentless, and mysterious. It breeds life, it shapes the earth, commands its world.

Where there is a river, there is a trout. Where there is a trout, there will be an angler. This particular trout, was high in the mountains. The king of his pool. The largest fish in the upper reaches by far, his genetics raining supreme in the volatile world with which he was born. A fish aged and strengthened by the furious river that tugged at his now tattered fins and scales. A solemn trout, a solitary trout, a trout like no other trout. The trout that could only reside in such a pool, in such a river, so high up into the wild where no trout was thought to be.

Where this trout resides is seldom visited by an angler, and an angler would have to walk the blue unnamed lines of the map to find such a place indeed. This place could be on any map, but for each angler that understands, there is only one map, one blue line, one mental note about the location of such a place. No markings on a map unveil it, no names befall it. It is unknown, but known, to the few that know, and it is held in secret to all but a few in a lifetime. The lucky anglers have a few maps that have unnamed and unmarked blue lines which hold the above described secrets. Whether through self discovery or loose lips, these places are discovered and forgotten, rediscovered, and lost. Fished 20 year ago and maybe a few luckily anglers stumble upon it once again. It happens in even the most popular of fly fishing areas.

The joy of my homewater, is that the area for which many of my maps belong to, are within the glorious National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness we have here. A little taste of the wild sandwiched between the west and east. The edge of the Cascades. An angler can hike and fish to their hearts absolute content here. Stillwater and trickles, creeks and streams, rivers and lakes, ponds, and backwaters. Its all here, and it is ever inviting to the lover of mountains and woods, and rivers and trouts.

My solemn, solitary, trout that is like no other trout; lives here in the upper reaches far up river, into the mountains, away from the world and off the trail. A solitary pool, near a mountain waterfall, hidden behind the woods and the folds of the mountains. A blue line barely graces the map near the place of which I speak. Such a special place, unlike any other I have ever witnessed. A place of birth, of life, the very roots of the homewater, with the ancient roots of the trout that populate the system below. The trout lies there for me. Chance and bordering on truly being lost brought me into the embrace of this place. The trout that should not have been. There…feeding…on the surface…

Silence….

The rod in my hand felt heavy from the hours of casting before happening upon this elder of trouts. Nothing but the sound of the falls and the forest were present. The surface broke as a mayfly was delicately plucked from under. A slight ripple and a slosh of surface water broke the silence. The heart syncs with some unknown rhythm lost in the fray of mobile phones, freeways, and crowds of people…civilization. The cast beats the rhythm…one…two, three…four. The feel of fiberglass and line whipping through the air just a few feet more. “We don’t want to spook the trout.” The worry of hooking a large trout on small tippet, and a 3 weight.

The drift falls to far right and the fish feeds on a natural in the correct lane and not the imitation 6 inches off. The tension is quite intoxicating. “Will another cast spook the fish?”

The cast falls correctly and the fish rises to the fly, only to refuse it.

One final cast, out of respect. “I tell myself this fish deserves to be left alone should it not want to share a moment with an angler today.” The cast places the fly upstream for a longer presentation to this old and smart trout. The fish rises…rises….rises, and refuses once again. The angler in me desires one more cast. The human in me disagrees. This place will be left undisturbed after my retreat, and I will be able to find it once again.

But…the angler in me always gets the better of me. I would not be a fly angler if it did otherwise. I leave the pool and give the fish time. The hatch is early, the sun is high, and the trout is withholding. I rest out of sight but still have a watchful eye on my quarry. I enjoy a smoke while writing in my journal of the place I am in and the awe for which it deserves.

The sun gives way and begins to touch the tree tops. The trout is feeding once again. I give him a wide birth, staying low and down river. The pool just large enough to cast across, but the trees behind made a proper cast quite impossible. A roll cast would surely spook the creature once again. A steeple cast was not a desirable solution either, but presented a higher chance of success as the shadows were in my favor. Waiting for the fish to stop feeding in between the drifts of the naturals presented an anxiety filled moment that seemed to last ages.

The window opened and a high cast laid the fly slightly off target but without spooking the trout. The fish rose but the fly was too far out of the lane. “One of the most finicky trout I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.” A slight breeze rippled the water and a large swath of naturals began floating down into the pool. “The trout may have been withholding but the river, was not.” Another cast and a perfect drift was granted to me. The fish rose and my imitation was in position….Silence…

I could feel my fiberglass pulse with the thrash of the trout. A surprise to us both, he by the imitation that foiled him, and I by the disbelief and amazement that I actually foiled him! “A quick but enjoyable struggle and the ratchet of my click paw drag was F’ing nirvana dude.”

The Elder Trout, was in my grasp. The trout and I shared a brief moment while holding him there in his pool…his lair…his ancient castle high above the river below. A Wild Trout that resembles his ancestors that lived in this river before Lewis and Clark met the Yakima where it enters the Columbia. Before the native peoples that lived off the river that this pool resided over high in the mountains.

I paid my respects to the trout. Released him back to his dominion and thanked him. I still visit his castle from time to time. He is long gone, I found him seasons ago while discovering the secrets of the mountain streams. Other trouts that resemble him reside there now. It has been several seasons since I was there. A visit is in order, with a fiberglass rod and a box of flies.

Tamarack

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Snow…what’s that?

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A topic that is floating around the fly fishing community here on the Yakima is Snow. Not typically something that fly anglers talk about as we just want it to leave so we can get to spring. However there has been very little snow this year. Checking the snotel sites of the high country we are looking at some of the worst numbers in the past few seasons for snow. This means a lot of things for anglers.

The river flow here is controlled by two things. Nature and man. With dams that hold water back for irrigation that helps grow the hops, grapes, wheat, pot, and of course hay and all that other great stuff, anglers are blessed with a river that can be very consistent during the prime angling season. While the issues of dams is not the topic here I support dams and also their removal. I come from a family rooted in the agriculture industry and lived a good chunk of my life in an area that feeds the majority of this country in the Columbia Basin. I see dams as one of those necessary evils in many cases but also love when we as a species can remove our impact on our environment to help let it return to its natural state.

The dams here help make this fishery what it is today. No question about it. These small dams that hold back water to create these large reserves are always in the back of mind when the season begins. With our dismal snow pack and our extended forecast looking more and more like spring, it seems that snow isn’t going to happen. This means that when we get our normal snow dumps in the late spring and early summer above 5-6000 feet, the river has the potential to be a very different lady come this season.

Water will more than likely trickle out of the dams all season long to help keep the levels up for the growing season in the lower valley. This means low flows, warmer temps, and hopefully….some wicked awesome fishing. There have been a lot of complaints about the lack of decent hatches in the past seasons. High water, bad runoff, and later in the year, low water, and high temps. This past season alone we saw temps go well above 65 degrees in the lower stretches and stay outside optimal trout habitat ranges for extended periods. I myself witnessed a massive shift in the hatches of several aquatic insects this summer and fall due to high water temps and high air temps. We also had a lot of high pressure systems fall upon us this season which also does not help the bugs.

The summer and short wing stonefly hatches this past season were amazing…from 9 to midnight. Massive hatches of stoneflies in the thousands on the upper river especially. More than I have ever seen in my 9 years on the river. Fish feeding through the night and into the dawn hours gorging themselves on these huge naturals. Of course I overnight on the river when I can and thats how I came across these observations.

I spent some time with a pair of goggles and a snorkel this year and migrations of insects for the hatch were much later during the summer in the upper stretches than any of my journal entries from previous seasons. I expect much of the same this year if the weather is hot and dry again.

While observing the trout without the use of a fly rod I found that by the time anglers got on the water even in the early mornings, the fish had already had their fill. Many days of frustrating summer fishing are not because of poor fish numbers or poor hatches. Its all do to full fish and irregular hatching times due to weather and water conditions.

When did they eat them? All night long! I remember camping riverside enjoying a smoke and a tea over a small campfire and all of the sudden there were stoneflies crawling everywhere. I was amazed, realizing that the hatch wasn’t in its full bloom until lower temps set in and the river cooled. Typically from 9 to midnight. A few reports in my journal show late hatches and night hatches but nothing like what I was seeing. Think prime caddis hatch but with stoneflies, and in the dark. I was finding them in my boat and clothing for a week after that. The hatch I witnessed for the two nights I was on the river in this instance, was epic to say the least. When I fished blind at night just to see if fish were on the surface at 11:30 pm, I was welcomed with some of the largest trout on the surface I have ever had the pleasure of releasing.

When I rose to fish around sunrise the fish were still coming up but sporadically and mostly smaller fish. Observing the fish again underwater I found fish were in rest mode digesting all the food they gorged themselves on the night before. That was how the whole summer went.

When the October Caddis came around the same thing happened. Fishing with the October in the upper stretches was by far more productive during the very early morning and late evening with the hatch happening in full force considerably later than usual. If I was able to stomach pump fish I can guarantee that they would have upchucked insane amounts of stonefly and October naturals.

What does this have to do with crummy snowpack? Well the water is going to trickle out of the reservoirs all season long. Only increasing when demand is at its peak and when shots of water are needed for salmon runs. Otherwise, it should be rather consistent albeit low, even through the summer. We may not see flows over 3800 to 4000 cfs in the lower canyon this summer. We could potentially see some of the greatest fishing conditions for the the spring and early summer season. When late July, August, and the fall come about, we could see another season like last year.

I am especially interested to see how the mayfly hatches are this year and their time frames. In the past years I have only seen an increase in the upper river of hatches, save for the mahogany dun in the fall, but I attest that to the previous described conundrum of midnight rendezvous of horny insects.

I witnessed some wonderful PMD hatches this year as well as drakes. I am hoping that if the river operates in the way the community is talking about, we will see some epic spring and early summer hatches. I am particularly excited for the March Brown but more so for the Drakes of the upper river and Cle Elum.

I fear for the late summer and fall but over the past few seasons that has been a normal worry. With the dry and high pressure we have been having and the bloody BURN BANS! (I hate burn bans but always obey them, but damnit not having the ability to have a campfire is quite irksome especially when hiking into the blue lines or overnights with the dog and the boat on the river.) The river could have a late season like last year. Which was not bad, but not stellar in my opinion. Even the salmon were funky this season due to the conditions, and we at least had some snow pack last year!

The window for snow fall is rapidly closing. We have about 14 days before, if it doesn’t happen, its not going to happen. We have 40 degree days and rain….inches of rain in the forecast for the rest of February. The models are predicting the same for March. The spring could be one of the better ones we have seen in a few seasons and I look forward to feeling the pulse of the river as I anxiously wait for the weather to change. We have Robins in the yard, no snow base, lots of rain, and days that feel more and more like March and not like a typical February. At least in my observation.

Chime in, lets talk about it, at least it gives us all something to do while we wait for fishing to pick up.

Speaking of fishing. Hit the river from Ump to Slab yesterday with a good friend and while the fishing was down right awful it was still a good day being on the river and getting a sense of where she is at. She will tell you a lot. We have warm days that bring her to life and bugs move and things happen, but we are still having days of cold and gloom that make for rather unproductive days. I fished everything, streamers, nymphs, light nymphs, and I went deep, shallow, looked all over the river for trouts. We had one nasty smelly white fish, seriously just a gross “teenage boy” smelling fish. Big but oh damn! We had one rainbow 15 inches, purple and blue, just gorgeous. She took the Yak Sandwich, or shit sandwich, as we like to call it. A rubber legs stone and a san juan worm below. Sometimes its all that works. Its a bummer but its still a trout.

The main reason for the craptastic fishing, at least my assessment, is as the river has dropped over the past week these fish went from being pushed into the banks from all the water and needing food to help with all the energy they used. We had great days of streamer and nymph fishing near the start of the drop in flows. We also had sunny warm days which kick things to life in the winter here on the river. Now we are at colder water temps, less current, and less energy used. Making trout revert into their normal winter lies and patterns. We also had a warm and sunny day previous and would have given the fish ample opportunity to feed enough to hold them over through the cold day we floated. If you listen to her the river will tell you all you need to know. Well, the river and a group of anglers talking non stop about fishing.

Join me this Saturday the 7th from 11-5 at Firemans Park in South Cle Elum near the South Cle Elum Boat Launch for our Trout Unlimited Cle Elum River Clean Up. Its gonna be soggy so bring your rain gear. We will have trash bags, maps, donuts, and spots in boats available but we will be doing a lot of walking. You can visit my facebook page or visit the link below to RSVP. We also have a BBQ after for volunteers! Help us clean up the river, catch a few fish maybe, and it gives you a chance to hang out with a bunch of anglers for the day!

TU Cle Elum River Clean Up

Tamarack

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Endurance and Tea

Photo by John Hicks of Sea Run Pursuits
Photo by John Hicks of Sea Run Pursuits

Good things comes to those who endure. Thats the best way for me to have a positive outlook on the life I have. Enduring hardships, loss, but most importantly, disappointments have been a powerful factor in my outlook and way of going about life. Positivity has not always been so easy.

As I described in the previous post, I enjoy the simple things everyday as much as I can. With a day off and a quiet morning here in the apartment, I am enjoying a strong Irish Breakfast Tea, the only tea worth drinking in the morning in my opinion. Tea, like beer and coffee, should be black, strong, and filling. My youngest daughter woke up rather early jabbering to herself, after the rest of the family left for school we hung out playing and talking before she decided to zonk out on me and fall back asleep. The amount of happiness and energy a baby wakes up with in the morning is down right unfair. Little minions have never been a stress for me except during birth, and with this third kid being my final, I take every chance I get to slow down and hang out with her.

I enjoy these slow mornings, sitting in my little room under the stairs at my tying table, typing, the wispy tendrils of steam rising off my tea, the lingering smell of smoke from my pipe at rest, a rolling bluegrass tune in the background, the thoughts of trouts swimming through my head.

A long journey to be able to enjoy the simple things. Seems rather backwards really. I feel as if I was lost for too long and am finally realizing what life is supposed to feel like for the wary but young trout bum. Life seems to be more and more like the river and chasing trout than ever these days. As if I had just finished developing a relationship on the most difficult part of the river, the torrent, upstream section, hard to access, hard to land fish, but worth the journey to learn how the river and fish begin.

Now I am on the prime water. The long stretch of “good” water. That 70 mile stretch if you will. There are still hard days on this part of the river, difficult and finicky trout, troublesome weather and water, but the days of great moments and easy floating are upon me. Indeed, life seems to be more like the river and chasing trout these days. When I do find myself on the actual river, not the metaphorical one that comes out in the cliches I write, there are days I fish less and enjoy embracing the river more. Don’t get me wrong I fish…like a lot. But there are days especially when I float solo or with the dog, that I find myself parked along the bank listening to the trees sing back and forth with the wind. The river adds her talking and babbling to the chorus. I hear a slight dimple in the water upstream and see the ripple of a now less hungry fish. Another rises, and another, I see the insects hatching, I feel the pulse of the river change as the life within her bursts into the fray. But my fly rod is at rest on my shoulder, I am just watching and enjoying this moment of life the river is showing me. Enjoying the simple things, of a caddis hatch, a slight breeze, and rising trout. Life should be more like the river.

Of course the angler in me always gets the better of me. I wouldn’t be a fly fisherman if it didn’t. I false cast three times and lay my fly and line upstream at the rising trout. A decent cast, a perfect drift, an eager but wary quarry, and a connection between angler….and trout. The disappointment, and memories of loss and hardship fade away. There is only the moment, the calm simple moment. What more is there really?

Another cup of tea and a few flies tied this morning is in order. Take a moment and enjoy something simple…and think about trout.

Tamarack

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Bytes, bits, and a life of bites.

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I enjoy the slower side of life. Being 28 I feel as if I stumbled on some secret almost a decade ago. Fly fishing seems to be the driving force behind my, “enlightenment” if you will.

I fell into a field of study at college that fed on the technology this country has such an appetite for. Even as I type this app and manage my website, check Facebook, send emails, and listen to internet radio while doing it, I realize the irony that sometimes presents itself here. Using the very tools I am somewhat condemning to write and promote myself, for a lifestyle that feeds on the complete opposite.

We live in a world of bytes and bits. Bytes of computing speed, bytes of internet speed, small sound bits, small clips and bits of video, bits of text coming on bytes of data, fed directly into your eye and ear holes. The more we use it the more they pump into it. Now I can watch how to tie a fly on the Internet, while watching a video of fishing in New Zealand, filling out a fly tying order, and checking my facebook feed, while also looking at whats trending, checking the flows for tomorrows float, and reading the news and blog articles. Oh wait someone just messaged me, and I have a new guide trip inquiry, and a voicemail!

Its a never ending comma stream of things we do every day on auto pilot at mach 10 going full speed all the time! Its exhausting to even type it all out.

STOP…

Fly fishing is the complete opposite. For me it all about the river. The river moves slow around the bends, fast through the drops, and light and airy through the riffles. It has deep slow troughs that can move trees, it carves canyons and hews rock with its very touch…slowly over time. A slow powerful giver. All a river does is give, it gives life to the valley, it carves beauty into the mountain side, and is home to species upon species of life. The river is the matriarch of the wild, if the mountains are the father.

They give the angler many things. Why everything starts with the river for me is two fold. It brings me silence, and it demands patience.

I suffer from some wicked tennittus, playing drums in bands when younger will do that do you. The ringing never ceases. Like most who suffer from this annoyance of a problem, it can make things rather uncomfortable sometimes. Sleep is a big problem at times, crowded areas with lots of crowd noise make it worse making it difficult to hear, staring at computer screens for extended periods also make it kick up. The river…is the ultimate cure all for it. It combats the ringing with its constant running and the silence that surrounds the river makes the annoyance disappear and I find relief. It sounds silly but it works. It doesn’t work for any real scientific or health reason. It works because of what the river does to me.

All that noise, the plugged in nature of everyday life today, can flare up all sorts of problems for people. Stress being the biggest. The river takes that all away. She gives me my cure, by drowning it all out and I can focus and find a sort of peace in the form of chasing trout and all that it entails.

There is none of the regular life on the river. The river doesn’t care for any of it. Mobile phones should be off in her presence, not always a reality, but try it sometime. The river demands your attention, your focus, and your patience. She gives, but not without testing. The gift I love most is the silence.

The river is anything but silent but it is silent to the world away from the river. She drowns out the world around with her subtle flow, birds sing and chat along her banks, squirrels talk at one another, a river otter chirps, a beaver slaps its tail, a bugle of a distant elk in the fall, or the loud call of an osprey or eagle riding the air in search of prey. The river uses all of this to clear out all the noise and fill me with silence. A silence we have lost touch with. Imagine a world without the noise? Just you and nature….some people can’t handle it. Its intoxicating to some who find a place of such silence. A mountain top where no plane flies overhead, a river with a roaring rapid around the bend, a snow filled day and the sound of a cutting ski, these bring silence to the noise.

Patience. A skill hard learned for an angler. The world off river is a fast paced one. I find that if life doesn’t slow down, insanity will ensue. It starts with that cabin fever you get. Some people don’t realize its cabin fever and they snap after 30 years of doing the same grind everyday and buy a sports car. Screw the car, buy a drift boat!

I get cabin fever about every three days to be honest. I find myself yearning to be outdoors and on the river more and more. The winter has not been kind, and even when I am not on the river she is teaching me patience. Be patient for spring Nate, its coming.

I hone my patience through tying when not on the river. Sitting and focusing on a singular activity for extended periods of time that is not plugged in helps my patience. All the while I am thinking about trout and the river that holds them. I’m like a drug addict. A patient, angling addict.

That patience has trickled and infiltrated into my everyday life. I am patient with my children, my lady, my co workers, the general public. I keep a cool, calm, steady, and patient demeanor, a giving outlook on things, and deep powerful passion; the river has no room for anything else so why should life? Why do those with money, large houses, and lots of things, envy the trout bum with a simple happy life? Because life is slower, and they see it, and they want it. It’s worth more than any amount of money. Pretty sure we are missing something about this thing we call life. Fly Fishing reopens a door for me. I enter into a world that is devoid of the very things we think make up life. Money, job, car, family, bills, the stuff that clogs up what life actually is, isn’t on the river. Where would it be…there is no room for it.

When you spend enough time on the river you start to figure some things out. The biggest one for me always comes back to patience. Life, much like the river, necessitates patience. My life has slowed down. I take my time to go about my day. Always trying to stray from feeling rushed or constrained. I take my time on the little things: the mornings are for slowly waking early, with the sun is best. A strong cup of tea is recommended, always taking the time to drink it fully. I typically enjoy a tea and a read, or I will write in the mornings. This sets up the rest of the day. Taking the time to enjoy it is the best method for a proper day. A good groom of the beard and a curl of the mustache in the morning makes for a dapper day as well.

I spend time enjoying the simple things. The turn of the thread while at the vise or holding my baby daughter and listening to her tell me all about her day requires attention and patience. Brushing things aside and rushing everything means you miss the whole point. You don’t jet boat down the river fishing one cast in every hole and moving on! You float or walk, with the river, at her speed, you slow down to spend more time and give each fish the proper attention. Should life be any different? Why not approach life as if I were approaching a wary rainbow lurking in the under cut. When you spend enough time on the river….you learn things.

The pace of my world has slowed so much I enjoy the simple pleasure of rolling the perfect smoke, tying the perfect fly, making the perfect cast, or spending hours with legos and a couple of kids, all of them making me fill fulfilled for the day. I may work 8 hours a day a few days a week and get a paycheck every month but it does not fulfill me. It pays for the off river world that is a necessity and allows me to spend more days on the river and chase trout with friends and clients. There is always the hope that my days of work are always ones that involve trout, but taking your time to accomplish your goals seems to be the best strategy in my experience. Rushed never works and sometimes doing things solo is the best method, much like a walk and wade trip into the mountains in search of trout and solitude.

So there it is! A few insights about life from a fly fishermen. Going the speed of the river seems to be a better way to get through things. Making a goal everyday of downloading less bytes and bits and making the only bites I have…from trout keeps me happy and content.

Tamarack

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Cars Suck, Drifboats are Better

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I hate driving, with a passion. In fact I don’t much care for anything that is motorized really. Its just not my speed. My speed is foot speed. A good 3 mile an hour pace with a pack on my back, a fly rod in my hand, and a good pair of boots. Headed farther up the trail to secret fishing spots and undiscovered riffles and pools.

My speed is more around that of the river. A slow but powerful churn, that can be swift when needed but calms and ebbs just around the bend. More my speed indeed. The speed of a drift boat and a strong back row for one more cast, feels more right than most.

While most around the river enjoy the winter from the back of a snowmachine. I never cared for snowmobiling in the winter months. Far louder and too fast to enjoy the outdoors properly in my opinion. You miss the softness of the winter. The quiet fall of the snow, the light babble of the low river, the lack of wildlife noises opens a world of solitude and silence. I for one, find it utterly refreshing,

I found that the winter months were better spent skiing or snowshoeing into the woods and discovering the wonderfully different side of them, This winter has made that rather difficult but I have fond memories of past seasons. Winter also offered me something even more desirable and just as intoxicating.

The river typically goes through the winter with little angler presence. The few die hards and anxious trout bums like myself will venture out when conditions line up, or even when they don’t. Sometimes just being on the river casting a rod to troublesome and sleepy winter trouts is all that is needed. The winter brings a stillness, peace, and absolute quiet that cannot be found any other time of year.

I have always enjoyed the lonely winter months along the banks of the river. A nymphing rig set up on a fast rod, a double haul with a big open loop, a 30 foot cast to the top of a deep trough, and that sweet sight of an indicator going down, the powerful tug of a hungry trout at the end. I have never been much of a streamer angler. While I love to strip flies for bass, and occasionally when the time of year or conditions demand it for trout, but I have a deep love for nymphing. A high stick drift, over the cross currents into that small soft spot between the boulder and the seam, the trouty place that only a large winter trout would hold in, ya…thats the stuff.

Tricking the quarry of an angler on the nymph requires patience, determination, and damn fine mending skills. A small bit of insanity is also needed. While dry fly fishing is…well dry fly fishing, nymphing is a game of fine tuning and dialing down to the result of tricking the trout. A proper dry fly placed in the correct lane with a excellent drift will entice a strike. A nymph through the fishiest water 300 times may never produce a thing and you would never know the difference, and miss an opportunity at the pod of 12 fish 2 feet deeper below your rig. An understating of current and hydrology helps immensely, spending time observing fish feeding on nymphs with a snorkel also opens up an entire world of enlightenment to the nymph angler.

Studying how the nymphs run through the water column and how they react to water temperature, air temperature, pressure, and the time of year all factor into where the trout will hold in order to feed. Try fishing the Salmon Fly Migration before the hatch, so many fish are left uncaught by the dry fly fisherman because they are full on nymphs. Some of the larger smarter fish as well. During the winter this process becomes a slightly tougher game mostly because less fish eat and fish need to eat less.

Trout slow down and almost hibernate during the winter. Typically in pods in deep slow water, trout hang out and literally chill while the winter months pass along. The fish all eat, but depending on the day they may eat just enough, not eat at all, or eat very little. This means anglers must pay close attention to temps and flows as well as sunlight. Warmer days with warm nights keep the water temps up which means fish need to feed. The greatest thing about winter fishing, especially on the Yakima, is that the larger fish are much easier to catch during the winter months. This is because the biggest fish need to eat more. The little fish may only need a small helping of nymphs to keep their energy levels at nominal for winter time. Larger fish need to eat, and therefore are easier to target.

During the regular season fish will gorge themselves on naturals, mostly because they require more energy to keep up with higher water temps which fuel their metabolism and they expel enormous amounts of energy during faster currents. Factor in fattening up for spawning in the spring and holding for the winter; and the regular season fishing is fairly straight forward. Winter fishing is an exact science surrounded by absolute frustrating chaos within the mind of an angler. A process of whittling down the sections of fishy water until the river takes the win or the angler gets a chance to prove oneself.

The typical single and double nymph set ups work just fine. I find myself light line nymphing with midge and pheasant tails frequently, but a large stonefly nymph and a zebra midge usually will result in success during the winter. I enjoy taking a piece of water and working it out fully. Picking lanes 6 inches apart from each other and casting through them, adjusting my depth every few casts looking for that sweet spot where the trout are holding.

Hitting them on the head is the best method and if you have ever seen trout feeding under water during December, let me tell you, they move very little most of the time, even for food. Working and entire section of water patiently and methodically will usually result in a proper winter trout. Winter nymphing is a matter of working all the variables out until you get that trouty result. You may only get one shot at a trout in the winter. Mostly due to time, the window for good fishing most winter days is under 3 hours. Fine tuning and finding the trout can take up most of that time but an ambitions angler with a good mind set can get the job done.

I spend the winter months tying and chasing the larger 4 and 5 year old fish that live in the deep pools and runs of the Yakima. The river is peaceful, and nothing is better than a soft snow and a quiet river. The silence being broken only, by the sound of a reel slowly fighting against a deep pulling trout.

Our destination is only a couple hours now, I look forward to a change of scenery, a different river, and a new quarry.

Tamarack

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Sharing the River

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I had the pleasure of sharing the river with a few anglers yesterday. It has been a while since I had fished with other people and the company was most welcome. I miss having new faces in the boat and learning about other people’s experiences, life, and how fly fishing works its way in there.

I got to float along with an old mentor of sorts, he was the first person to ever take me on the river in a drift boat. He may not know it but I was so incredibly intimidated by him and his brand new Clacka back then. He and his daughter were gracious enough to let me ride along and help clean up trash from the Yak. I remember a particular stretch where the current was fast and we had to wade on either side of his daughter. I remember being inspired to share the river with my own daughter who was only a wee one at the time. I will remember that float forever, it made me realize that I wanted to row a boat for trout more than ever. Thanks dude.

Floating the river yesterday was a much needed respite from the world. The river was gorgeous even if she was unwilling to relinquish any of her trout to us. Even with the lack of fish the ability to row for once was intoxicating enough. I love to row. I love to slow the boat down and watch the river from just above it, waiting for a trout to flash in the current or rise to the surface. Rowing the river is almost as enjoyable to me as fly fishing. Almost. My body is slightly sore after being on the sticks, and my prior day of wading a few miles but its a sore I relish. I wish I was able to feel my muscles strained from fishing every day.

The other part of fishing with others is even when the fishing is bad the socialization can be the saving grace of the day. Laughing at fishing stories, swapping tales and lies, the hilarity of what is said between a group of anglers riverside can be a cure all. I look forward to more days riverside with anglers as the season approaches.

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After fishing I jumped out of my comfort zone and socialized off river. I am not much of a people person but can wear the hat and be involved. A good strong dark beer helps as well. I attended the Trout Unlimited meeting and got to see a lot of familiar faces and meet a lot of new ones. I loved talking with the old timers. The older generation may not fish as much but they have fished a lot. They are always willing to relay stories and information and learn about how things have changed and what has stayed the same. I mentored under an old timer, or THE old timer, for the Yak and I always find gems of information when conversing with the elder anglers. That makes them sound all mystical and shit…The Elder Anglers, I like that.

I also was very interested in the science behind some of the new projects developing on the river from other organizations and look forward to learning more about them as the year moves forward.

Trout Unlimited is a great organization and I am looking forward to being a part of thier mission here in the Headwaters of the Yakima River. I have kids and I want them to be able to fish these rivers and have better days than I ever did. I want my grandkids to be able to fish this river. While I focus mainly on the fishing I understand that this water is connected to everything and it is my duty as an angler here to make sure that the trout are not forgotten about. The trout tell you everything you need to know about the river. If I can help this river and all that in entails through TU then its kind of a no brainer. I am not just a young trout bum who wants to fish. I have invested almost 10 years of my life into this river and I want to give back what I can in return for what is has given me and continues to give.

I look forward to this new Chapter. I will be leaving for Idaho on Saturday for a week. I am hoping to get some fishing in while I am there. Maybe a brown trout, but there will be blogs from the road. It’s time to tie some flies and pack a few things.

Tamarack

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January Sun

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Hit the river for the day. I tied a few flies this morning and hit the river around 10:30 ish. The fog was just starting to burn off when I got to the first spot on the upper river. The flows were up from the shot of rain and snow we got so wading was tough but I managed to fish a few good looking places before moving on. The river was too swollen near Three Bridges for me to try my luck at a few of my favorite winter fishing spots up and down river of there.

I decided to head back into town and hit my old friend the Cle Elum. This river never ceases to amaze me. I hiked upriver today to a spot I haven’t visited in a while. I remember hiking the banks on a early summer day after they start to back the flows off from the dam above. There is a great drake hatch and some of the most perfect looking water I have seen on a river hidden up in the trees. The only way to access it is to walk it or float it and you have to walk a bit so not a lot of people fish it.

The sun was burning off the left over water still clinging to the rocks, moss, and trees when I stripped out enough line for a proper cast. The section I was standing below is where the river narrows between some log jams. There is a deep trough, a shelf, and a large deep eddy on the river right side. A nice 30 foot cast to the top of the trough along the seam between the slow and fast water dropped. Another 30 or so dropped before I finally hooked a fish.

The sunlight was shining brightly through the trees. It hit the water and lit up the mossy and algae covered stones below. Midges flew from the surface of the water and congregated along the edges of the river near still water between the pebbles and rocks. I could see a shape holding in the seam. It flashed. My excitement grew almost uncontainable. I cast far up river, knowing there were probably other fish in the hole. I finally got a proper drift through the cross currents while trying not to spook the fish that was still flashing and feeding below. I did not want to miss my opportunity as the sun could be off the surface at any moment and all could be lost.

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My indicator shot down and I set the hook with a high stick and a pull on the slack line. The fish hung in the fast water and shook slightly. I thought for sure it was a bloddy white fish but as I worked the fish into the slow water near me it spooked and woke up. It took line out with a slow hard pull and went deep. Then the head shaking came and I thought I was going to loose the fish since it was on the bottom size 16 zebra midge. One roll without tension and its over dude. My Winston bent and arced and vibrated as the fish tried to move into deeper water below me.

The trout took too much time in the fast water and I was patient. The beating the river gave me last week I was determined to do this correctly. The fish admitted he had been outsmarted and I pulled him into my nets embrace.

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A beautiful Rainbow Trout. Bigger than I thought as well. A delightful surprise. I did not measure but a proper 16 inches of healthy wild rainbow would have been my guess. A hefty fish as well. The water was bitter cold so I kept it in the net as not to shock it too bad. I took my flies from the trouts jaw, had my moment that I have been longing for all winter long, and released it from the net. I gave the tail a light touch and the trout darted back into the deep water on the other side of the river.

Content. The river only graced me with one trout today. I only fished for just over an hour and spent most of it walking upriver. I saw several trout working the midges underneath but they were easily spooked being in the sunlit water. Sometimes, especially in winter fishing, one is all you get.

I will be floating the upper river tomorrow and we shall see if she will give up a few more for a moment or two.

Tamarack